2002 / Jill Muranaka performed "Koi Butai" at the Royal Hawaii Shopping Center's Obon Festival two years ago.

Dancing for the dead

It's obon time.

A lantern-floating ceremony Monday will launch the three-month island Buddhist tradition of honoring the dead with ritual, music and dance.

Bon dances will be held at Japanese Buddhist temples around the state, taking turns in an orchestrated calendar that fills all the weekends of the summer.

Service to honor issei

A special bon service honoring 141 of the early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii will be held at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at Honolulu Memorial Park, 22 Craigside Place.

The issei or first-generation contract laborers, who came to Hawaii to work on plantations, died in Kuakini Home, which was built in 1932 to house retirees who had no families to care for them. Their ashes are buried in the Kuakini Home columbarium.

The bon service has been sponsored by Kuakini Health Systems since 1961, when the columbarium was dedicated.

The grave plot was donated by Monte Richards, Honolulu Memorial Park president, in 1960 in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants.

In Hawaii, it has become a cultural and social occasion as much as a spiritual observance, said University of Hawaii religion professor George Tanabe. Many of the participants who follow the bon dance circuit are celebrating their Japanese heritage. And in typical island style, people of other ethnic and religious backgrounds join in the exuberant cultural expression, a form of line dancing to the beat of taiko drums.

"What takes place in the dancing has very little to do with the rituals priests perform at temples," Tanabe said. "If you listen carefully, the songs are folk songs, agricultural songs. Two meanings are superimposed."

Obon literally means "lantern festival" and the colorful hanging lights will cast a glow over dancers at each location. The tradition is to light the way for the spirits of ancestors who are greeted with offerings of flowers, food and incense in temple rituals and on family altars.

The idea of lighting a candle to remember the dead is familiar to many Westerners, which may explain the growing popularity of the lantern-floating event, now in its sixth year. Thousands of people attend the Toro Nagashi ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park, a crowd that includes Japanese visitors here for the occasion and islanders intrigued by the symbolism of prayers sent out to sea.

Traditionally, the lantern-floating is the finale of the obon observance, guiding the ancestors back to the spirit world, said retired Honpa Hongwanji minister Alfred Bloom. In Japan, the Toro Nagashi is often on a river.

"There is the concept of carrying away impurities, so sending these ancestors back also has the aspect of a fresh start for the living," Bloom said.

The Ala Moana lantern launching on Monday is sponsored by the Shinnyo-en Buddhist order. Its late founder, Shinjo Ito, was inspired to combine the tradition with the Memorial Day holiday after he visited the Arizona Memorial in 1970, according to information from the Honolulu branch of the Tokyo-based organization. The event will feature musical entertainment beginning at 4 p.m. and 1,100 lanterns set adrift at 6 p.m.

Oahu's longest-running Toro Nagashi will be held at Haleiwa harbor on Saturday, June 26. Some 1,200 lanterns will be sent to sea from Alii Beach Park at 9:30 p.m. For more than 30 years, the event has been the finale of the Haleiwa Jodo Mission's two-day obon observance.

The prolonged phenomenon of obon in Hawaii amazes people from Japan, where the season is marked for only a couple weeks in August, Tanabe said.

"In Japan, few temples have bon dances. They are organized by communities, more of a regional summer festival that comes during obon season."

Bloom said the Japanese tradition is rooted in the ancient agricultural society welcoming spring and the beginning of the planting season.

"In Japan, they believed the ancestors lived in the mountains and, in the agricultural context, came down to help raise the crops and bring water for the crops. They stayed for the summer."

The concept of dancing for the dead is based on a story about a disciple of the Buddha named Mokuren, Bloom said. The monk's vision of his dead mother in the realm of hungry ghosts, starving because of her greed while alive, led him to ask Shakyamuni Buddha how he could relieve her suffering. He was told to offer food to monks returning from a retreat. His mother's spirit was freed by his good deed, which led Mokuren to dance with joy.

"And that justifies the dancing," Bloom said.


2004 Oahu Bon Dance Schedule

Date Time Location Address Practice
June 5 6-10 p.m. Waipahu Cultural Garden Park 94-695 Waipahu St.
June 19 5-9 p.m. Young Okinawans of Hawaii Festival Windward Mall parking lot
June 19 7:30 p.m. Ewa Hongwanji Mission 91-1133 Renton Road
June 25-26 7:30-10:30 p.m. Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin 1727 Pali Highway 7 p.m. June 21, 22, 23
June 25-26 7:30 p.m. Wahiawa Hongwanji 1067-A California Ave.
June 25-26 8-11 p.m. Haleiwa Jodo-Shu 66-279-A Haleiwa Road
July 2 6:30-10 p.m. Kaneohe Higashi Hongwanji 45-520 Keaahala Road
July 2-3 7:30-10:30 p.m. Moiliili Hongwanji 902 University Ave. 7 p.m. June 29, 30
July 9-10 7 p.m. Koboji Shingon Mission 1223 B N. School St. 7 p.m. July 7
July 9-10 7:30 p.m. Waipahu Hongwanji 94-821 Kahaulua St.
July 10 7-10 p.m. Tendai Mission of Hawaii 23 Jack Lane
July 16-17 7:30-10:30 p.m. Shinshu Kyokai Mission 1631 S. Beretania St. 7:30 p.m. July 13, 14
July 16-17 8-11 p.m. Haleiwa Shingon Mission 66-469 Paalaa Road 7 p.m. July 6
July 16-17 6:30 p.m. Rissho Kosei-Kai Hawaii Kyokai 2280 Auhuhu St., Aiea
July 17 7:30 p.m. Waianae Hongwanji 87-762 Old Government Road
July 17 5-11 p.m. Kailua Hongwanji 30-D Maluniu St. 7 p.m. July 14
July 23-24 7-10 p.m. Higashi Hongwanji Mission 1632 Alaneo St.
July 23-24 7 p.m. Wahiawa Ryunsenji Soto Mission 164 California Ave.
July 24 7:30 p.m. Kahuku Hongwanji Mission Call 622-4320 for directions.
July 30-31 6:30-9:30 p.m. Jikoen Hongwanji Mission 1731 N. School St. 7-9 p.m. July 21, 23, 28
July 30-31 7-10:30 p.m. Palolo Higashi Hongwanji 1641 Palolo Ave.
Aug. 6-7 7-10:45 p.m. Shingon Mission of Hawaii 915 Sheridan St.
Aug. 6-7 6 p.m. Koganji Temple 2869 Oahu Ave. 1-3 p.m. July 11, 18, 25
Aug. 6-7 8 p.m. Waipahu Soto Zen Mission Taiyoji 94-413 Waipahu St.
Aug. 7 7:30 p.m. Waialua Hongwanji 67-313 Kealohanui St.
Aug. 13-14 7:30 p.m. Pearl City Hongwanji 858 2nd St.
Aug. 14 8 p.m. Aiea Soto Mission Taiheiji 99-045 Kahale St.
Aug. 20-21 7:30-11 p.m. Mililani Hongwanji 95-257 Kaloapau St. 7 p.m. Aug. 5, 12, 17, 18
Aug. 20-21 7:30 p.m. Soto Mission of Hawaii 1708 Nuuanu Ave.
Aug. 20-21 7 p.m. Jodo Mission of Hawaii 1429 Makiki St. 7 p.m. Aug. 12, 13
Aug. 28 7:30 p.m. Aiea Hongwanji Mission 99-186 Puakala Road
Sept. 4 6 p.m. Okinawan Festival at Kapiolani Park
Sept. 18 6 p.m. Autumn Okinawan Dance Matsuri Hawaii Okinawa Center, Waipio  

2004 Neighbor Island Bon Dance Schedule

Big Island

» June 5, Hakalau Jodo Mission
» June 12, Honomu Henjoji Mission
» June 19, Papaikou Hongwanji Mission
» June 19, 6 p.m., Kona Regional Bon Dance, Keauhou Shopping Center
» June 26, Honomu Hongwanji Mission
» July 2-3, Puna Hongwanji Mission
» July 3, Keei Hongwanji Fukyojo
» July 3, Kohala Hongwanji Mission
» July 9-10, 8 p.m., Paia Mantokuji Soto Mission
» July 9-10, Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin
» July 10, 7:30 p.m., Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission
» July 10, 8 p.m., Kohala Jodo Mission
» July 10, Paauilo Hongwanji Mission
» July 16-17, 7 p.m., Hilo Meishoin
» July 17, Honokaa Hongwanji Mission
» July 24, Hilo Hooganji Mission
» July 24, 8 p.m., Kurtistown Jodo Mission
» July 24, Kona Hongwanji Mission
» July 31, 7 p.m., Hilo Taishoji Soto Mission
» July 31, Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission
» Aug. 7, 8 p.m., Hawi Jodo Mission
» Aug. 7, Paauilo Kongoji Mission
» Aug. 14, Kona Koyasan Daishiji
» Aug. 14, 8-11 p.m., Hilo Higashi Hongwanji Mission
» Aug. 14, 8 p.m., Hamakua Jodo Mission
» Aug. 21, 7 p.m., Hilo Nichiren Mission
» Aug. 21, Kamuela Hongwanji Mission
» Aug. 21, 8 p.m., Hakalau Jodo Mission
» Aug. 28, Pahoa Young Buddhist Association
» Aug. 28, Honohina Hongwanji Mission


June 11-12, 8 p.m., Waimea Higashi Hongwanji
June 18-19, 8 p.m., Kapaa Hongwanji Mission
June 25-26, 8 p.m., Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple
July 2-3, 7:45 p.m., West Kauai Hongwanji Koloa Temple
July 9-10, 7:45 p.m., West Kauai Hongwanji Waimea Temple
July 16-17, 8 p.m., Koloa Jodo Mission
July 23-24, 8 p.m., West Kauai Hongwanji Hanapepe Temple
July 30-31, 7:45 p.m., Lihue Hongwanji Mission
Aug. 6-7, 8 p.m., Waimea Shingon Mission
Aug 13-14, 8 p.m., Kapaa Jodo Mission


» June 19, 7 p.m., Puunene Nichiren Mission
» June 19, Wailuku Shingon Mission
» June 25, 8 p.m., Wailuku Jodo Mission
» June 26, 8 p.m., Lahaina Jodo Mission
» July 9-10, 8 p.m., Paia Mantokuji Soto Mission
» Aug. 13-14, 8 p.m., Kahului Jodo Mission
» Aug. 28, Kula Shofuji Mission


» July 3, 5:30 p.m., Molokai Guzeiji Soto Mission

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